India judges Bt cotton

April 2011

Picture from Wiki Commons
A two-day conference of senior judges and farmers in India has identified some very uncomfortable aspects relating to the regulatory procedures and growing of GM insecticidal, 'Bt' cotton. The issue under consideration was “Emerging Jurisprudence of Genetic Engineering: Food, Farming and Biosafety”.

Eleven farmers described their experiences after they had been “duped” into cultivating GM cotton. Besides being given inadequate information on the identity and quality of the seed, the company gave false promises of high yields and low pesticide use.

The Law of Mother Nature

April 2011

Picture from Wikimedia Commons




... and other landmark decisions

Bolivia is set to pass some landmark new laws. The country will soon have the world's first laws granting all Nature equal rights to humans.

Politicians and grassroots social groups have agreed the 'Law of Mother Nature' which redefines the countries natural resources, its rich mineral deposits, as “blessings”. The new law is expected to lead to radical conservation and social measures which will reduce pollution, reduce emissions, and control industry.

Ethanolic corn realities

April 2011

Corn Field
Corn field in Argentina
by Irargerich on Flickr
Green alternative? Or expensive mistake? Biofuels are not, it seems, going to carry on where fossil fuels left off.

Biofuels are one of the fastest growing industries.

The biofuels sector is attracting high levels of investment from venture capitalists. Its massive growth is being stimulated by funding from such agencies as the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and carbon emissions trading markets. Add to this that billions of dollars are being poured into biofuel research by industry, in particular Big Oil, Big Biotech and their associates in the car and energy business.

GM pesticides inside you

April 2011

Crop Dusting
Crop dusting in Mississippi by
Roger Smith on Flickr
GM plants are designed to generate or sequester pesticides. Where do all these pesticides go when you eat the plants?

Fifteen years after staple GM crops began to spread through our food chain, a scientific study has been completed into the question of whether the GM-linked pesticides (present in all these crops) actually end up inside the body of the consumer.

The short answer to this question is yes: four out of the five commonest GM-linked pesticides tested were found to be circulating in the blood.

The costs of Bt

April 2011

Bt-crops have huge direct and indirect costs attached.

Monsanto spends millions of dollars on PR to persuade maize farmers that their crops, and profits, will be eaten to oblivion by the European Corn Borer (ECB)

As its name indicates, ECB is a very expensive mistake introduced to America in 1910 on imported broom handles. It is an especially problematic pest because it produces three generations during the May to September corn-growing season, and the larval form buries itself inside the plant within 7 to 10 days, after which it is inaccessible to any conventional insecticide applications.

Bt in mammals

April 2011

Dr. Arpad Pusztai (who was instantly vilified when his research provided evidence of immune-system responses in the gut of rats) focused his science on the gastro-intestinal tract of his experimental animals.

Since the gut is the feed-animal interface and the largest lymphoid (immune-system) tissue of the body, it will be the first organ likely to react to any dietary allergens or other toxins, or a novel microbial flora induced by the diet.

Bt in insects

April 2011

Many of these are our pollinators

Bees

Recent years have seen waves of massive bee decline around the globe. Some of these can be traced to infection or infestation, but others are a complete mystery. However, the finger is being increasingly pointed at agri-pesticides in and on the flowering crops from which the bees gather their food.

Bt in the soil

April 2011

Soil fungi 

Bt insecticidal toxins generated by GM plants will enter the soil as root exudates, as decomposing litter and as ploughed-in stubble. The toxins are known to be able to accumulate in soil where they can remain active for several months.

In 2008, an Italian study looked at the effects of Bt-toxin on soil health, with particular reference to the soil fungi which play a vital role in soil fertility and plant nutrition.

The research identified two strains of Bt crop which had the ability to reduce fungal colonisation of root systems. The finding was supported by a previous study demonstrating that litter decomposition, which is dependent on fungal colonisation, was slower in Bt crop material.

A reduced activity of essential fungi in the soil has many ominous implications.

Bt in the water

April 2011

Aquatic wildlife

In 2007, a US study looked at the potential for Bt corn by-products to poison waterways.

It found that GM plant detritus and pollen make their way into streams. Once there, they can be sequestered, consumed or carried considerable distances.

Insect life in the streams which consumed such GM plant debris had reduced growth and increased mortality. Other animals which feed on algae contaminated with Bt pollen were also noted to be at risk.

Sources:
  • Adapted from 'Bt is a TOXIN' which first appeared on GM-free Scotland in September 2008
  • E. J. Rosi-Marshall et al., Toxins in transgenic crop byproducts may affect headwater stream ecosystems, http://www.pnas.org//, received for review 5.03.07
Farmed fish
It's well-known that a large proportion of non-organic dairy, meat, eggs and poultry in the EU comes from animals raised on GM feed. Green groups have been campaigning long and hard to get this hidden source of GM out of our food-chain.

Less well-known is that fish reared in fish farms, are likely to have been fed GM soya and maize.
Studies have revealed that Atlantic salmon fed on a diet of Bt maize, MON810, have increased levels of stress-marker proteins and have altered proportions of white blood cell types indicative of an immune system reaction.

Like all intensively farmed animals, fish can often only be kept free from disease by treatment with chemicals, and are slaughtered long before they get old. Chronic health problems will not, therefore, be obvious in them.
Eating the flesh of stressed or unhealthy animals is not a healthy option.

Sources
  • Adapted from 'FISH TOO' which first appeared on GM-free Scotland in December 2008
  • Sagstad, et al., Evaluation of stress- and immune-response biomarkers in Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar L., fed different levels of genetically modified maize Bt maize, compared with its near-isogenic parental line and a commercial suprex maize, Bull Acad Natl Med., April-May 2007

Example of an artificial DNA construct used during the Scottish Farm Scale Evaluations

April 2011

Since the dawn of GM foods, much of the argument about their acceptability has revolved around the question of whether genetic transformation of an organism is “playing with nature” or, indeed, whether this even matters since human beings seem to be “playing with nature” all the time. One way to judge these questions, is to have look at what genetic engineers actually put into your food.

Ignoring the genomic mess we're creating with GM

April 2011

In April 2005, an American opinion was published in the scientific literature stating that genomic characteristics need no longer be considered by regulators.

A team from the biotech industry and US universities suggested that, to regulate GM crops “sensibly”, the present impediments posed by costly restrictions and requirements could now be safely “modified”. The team argued that we now have “long-accepted” breeding methods, “two decades” of “experience”, an “expanding knowledge of the plant genome,” and indications that the “genetic engineering process itself presents little potential for (unidentified) unexpected consequences”. Therefore, it was reasoned that regulatory oversight need only focus on standard agricultural practice in use plus the nature of the introduced genes.

The dance of the chromosomes

April 2011

Time-lapse photographs taken of a single point on a chromosome inside the nucleus in a living cell, demonstrated very graphically why GM is an inherently disruptive technology.

The marked spot, which could represent any gene, was seen to be in constant rapid motion, travelling between the periphery and the centre of the nucleus four times within a 60 second period.

DNA throws wobblies

April 2011

There is only one predictable thing about transgenic organisms: they will change with time.

However, the way in which they will change is entirely unpredictable.

All GMOs are subject to inescapable destabilising influences. These come from intrinsic structural qualities of their artificial DNA, and, from the natural life-processes within which the artificial DNA must operate. Both act to alter the carefully manufactured DNA cassette, and once destabilised, anything can happen.

Changing models of the genome

April 2011

Twenty years ago, when genetic engineering was in its infancy, and commercialisation of a genetically tranformed plants no more than a dream, genes were viewed as fixed units of DNA embedded in swathes of 'junk' DNA.

Roundup Ready decline

April 2011

What's going on in the real world of Roundup Ready farming?

Spraying crops in the evening dusk
Crop spraying by TaminaMiller on Flickr
An article in Ag Journal gives some useful, at times poetically vivid, insights into what's really happening in GM Roundup-based agriculture in the USA.

The problems described are much the same as we've been hearing elsewhere. Roundup Ready seeds genetically transformed to resist Roundup herbicide are being mis-used and over-used, and farmers don't seem to know how to stop.

Foresight

April 2011

To scale up or scale down? That's the big question facing global agriculture. The US and UK Governments and the biotech industry say up, the United Nations and Development Agencies say down.

At the start of 2011, the UK Government produced a report on 'Global Food and Farming Futures' (referred to as 'Foresight' in reference to the thinktank which produced it).

This “mammoth” Report was the culmination of two years of study involving 400 scientists from 34 countries.

While recognising that no single solution exists, the Report stresses that it is critical to achieve increased yields by “sustainable intensification” in the developing world. To achieve this, it says, will require the spread of existing knowledge and technology.

GM affects the brain

April 2011

GM crops could cause a pandemic of psychiatric disorders. How far-fetched is that?

The scientific wisdom of yesteryear held that a “blood-brain barrier” exists which protects the brain from substances and cells in the blood which would otherwise upset brain function.

There is, indeed a physical blood-brain barrier. But it can be breached. Stress and inflammation can make different areas of the barrier leaky. This allows harmful materials to pass through and disturb the function of associated areas of the brain.

2,4-D - every bite a killer

April 2011

Roundup herbicide and its active ingredient, glyphosate, have been getting a lot of bad press recently.  But it seems there's worse to come.

RNA interference technology... the next GM adventure

April 2011

The latest thing in genetic manipulation is RNA interference: this is even less predictable and controllable than artificial DNA.

The first commercial GM crop, back in the 1990s, was a long-life tomato which had had one of its genes switched off. The engineered DNA which achieved this wasn't a gene, but a 'back-to-front' version of one of the plants own genes. The effect of the 'backwards' DNA was to interfere with the expression of a key gene necessary for the ripening process, causing a delay in softening of the tomatoes. The only artificial gene this plant contained was an antibiotic resistance gene, and the risk assessment successfully focused on this side issue and on the artificial DNA construct, ignoring any effects of the actual transformation process. Despite these limitations, all subsequent GM risk assessments seem to have been largely modelled on this first one. The long-life GM tomato was a biological and commercial failure.

'No one has ever been harmed by GM'... fact or wishful thinking

April 2011

What is the evidence that “no one has ever been harmed by GM”?

There's no doubt that GM foods have been part of the typical American diet for many years. This is hardly surprising when an estimated 70% of all foods on US supermarket shelves contain genetically modified ingredients, including most things bulked up with starches, sugar syrups, vegetable oils, 'protein' in various guises, imitation meat, and a host of additives. Over and above this 70% of processed food, the majority of animal products come from livestock given GM feed.

Viral promoters

April 2011

Artificial DNA copied from viruses is in most GM plants.

Almost every GM crop ever created has included of a useful little piece of DNA copied from the 'Cauliflower Mosaic Virus' (CaMV). This chunk of DNA is referred to as 'CaMV 35S', and as its name suggests, it is part of the DNA found in a virus which commonly infects cauliflower and related vegetables. In infected plants, its normal function is to switch on the genes needed for the virus to replicate itself. In GM plants its function is to switch on the engineered DNA attached to it which otherwise would likely remain dormant: effectively it overpowers the host cell's own self-regulatory mechanisms to permanently turn on the inserted genes which then generate huge amounts of the transgenic proteins. The value of the CaMV 35S 'promoter' to genetic engineers lies in its promiscuity: it acts on all types of DNA in the genome of all types of plants.

You are what you eat

April 2011

What happen if you eat unintelligent food?

You are what you eat. How could it be any other way?

The statement sounds simple and obvious, but think of the implications.

Food is living matter, formed under the guidance of the intelligence of Nature. The soil from which our food grows is made by a vast array of living organisms, organised by Nature's intelligence to work in concert. Our bodies, too, are living matter and are a unique product of the intelligence of Nature. You are what you eat: to maintain the intelligence in your body, you need to eat intelligent food grown in intelligent soil.

Where does the GM go... after you've eaten it?

April 2011
What happens to the artificial DNA, novel proteins and by-products inside once they've been eaten?

After a New Zealand poultry producer claimed in advertising that its products contained “No ... GM ingredients”, the question was raised: do products made from chickens given a 13% GM soya diet really have “no GM content”?

Agrobacterium

April 2011

What do Agrobacterium and human beings have in common? One's a soil bacterium and the other's a primate with a very large brain: the scope for sharing anything seems limited. However, both carry out genetic transformations of other life-forms to provide food for themselves.

Put more accurately, the genetic engineers with the big brains have hijacked the gene transfer mechanism of their microscopic counterparts to provide human food.

Well done, humans!

GM soya: why look out for it?

April 2011


GM soya is perfectly legal in Europe and could appear in your food at any time. Why look out for it? After all, the soya we eat is so heavily processed and artificial anyway, is it really any different in GM form?

Consider that soya beans themselves are rarely eaten as beans: they don't taste very nice and both animals and humans find them difficult to digest. They're routinely processed into a host of “food-like substances” (Pollan). Before they get anywhere near your plate, soya beans will have received some or all of the following treatments: multiple heat-treatments, pressure, cracking and crushing, chemical extractions, treatment with acids, alkalis and enzymes, bleaching, addition of preservatives, supplements, colouring and flavouring, and finally molding into some shape to make it seem to be something it's not. All this doesn't sound a very good way to produce wholesome food.

Microbes in our guts... a little something to worry about

April 2011

Introduction
Where will the biggest risk to our health from GM foods come from: Allergies? Toxins? Antibiotic resistant infections? Or, something more insidious?

One of the earliest concerns raised about GM foods was that a disturbed genome would generate strange proteins to which our bodies would react.
 

How GM could cause allergies

April 2011

How often have we heard that GM food is safe because scientists know exactly what they are doing? True, they know all about the gene they have constructed, all about the protein generated by their gene, and something about the bit of the plant's genome their engineered chunk of DNA has landed in. Safety regulations demand disclosure of this information, plus tests of the toxicity and allergenicity of some version similar to the novel protein, and assurances that the engineered DNA hasn't landed in one of the plant's own genes.

So, what's the problem?

MADGE on allergies

April 2011

Australia's Mothers Are Demystifying Genetic Engineering (MADGE) has been busy gathering information on possible links between GM in the food chain and the incidence of severe allergic reactions in the population.

The MADGE investigation kicked off with the Australian research which found that peas (with no history of being allergenic) transformed with a gene from a bean (with no history of being allergenic) caused the peas to produce a bean protein as intended (with no history of being allergenic) and also created a GM pea which not only induced allergic reactions to the pea itself, but also induced allergic reactions to proteins in other foods.

Roundup impairs animal fertility

April 2011

Evidence is accumulating that Roundup herbicide affects fertility.

The infamous study by Russian scientist Irina Ermakova, which found that feeding rats on Roundup Ready (RR) soya led to stunted growth, small litter size and pup deaths was dismissed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on the basis that an American study on mice published in 2004 had recorded no pup survival, health or litter size problems at all.

Roundup causes birth defects in humans

April 2011

Spraying weeds with Roundup herbicide kills them. Spraying GM Roundup Ready crops with Roundup fills them up with Roundup. Spraying people and their food with Roundup has been 'proved' safe. But is it?

Roundup disrupts human cells

April 2011

There's evidence of what Roundup does to human cells that Monsanto doesn't like at all.

French scientists have revealed that Monsanto's prize herbicide, Roundup, may not be anything like as safe as previously supposed.

Roundup makes plants sick

April 2011

Do you want to eat sick plants? Or to feed the livestock which provide your food on sick plants? Are you comfortable with giving the vulnerable in the developing world sick plants to eat? Then just spray them with Roundup.

Safe as salt? Not Roundup

April 2011

There's no such thing as a poison that's 'safe as salt' Roundup is no exception.